For more than 400 years, Shakespeare’s works have been performed throughout the world— retold, reinterpreted and reinvented for each generation. Now, the Hogarth Shakespeare series is giving that opportunity to several of the most acclaimed contemporary novelists of our day. British writer Jeanette Winterson is the first to take on the challenge with The Gap of Time, a refashioning of The Winter’s Tale. Winterson’s own experience as an adopted child gives a special meaning to this story of an abandoned daughter.
The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s late plays, tells the story of a king, Leontes, whose jealousy results in the death of his beloved wife and the banishment of his infant daughter, Perdita. Through a series of extraordinary (and coincidental) incidents, the family is reunited—although not before tragic losses lead to hard-won lessons.
Winterson places the action in London of the late 1990s, a city reeling from one financial crisis after another. Leo is a successful corporate tycoon; Hermione, his wife, a popular singer; and Paulina is Leo’s longtime personal assistant and conscience. Xeno, a close friend of Leo since boarding school, is a game designer. He has been staying with the family, and when Leo begins to imagine there is more than friendship between Xeno and Hermione, his jealousy catches fire, and his behavior turns irrational.
Shep and his son Clo are the ones to find the abandoned baby Perdita and raise her as family. They run a jazz club in an unnamed region that feels like rural Louisiana. When Perdita meets Zel, Xeno’s estranged son, he is working as a mechanic for the wily Autolycus—one of Shakespeare’s most lovable rogues who shows up here as a used car salesman and expert poker player who inadvertently brings the young lovers together.
What makes The Gap of Time (the phrase is chosen from the introduction to Act IV and refers to the time between the abandonment and rediscovery of Perdita) so successful, is that Winterson not only cleverly updates the details of the 1610 original but also remains true to the play’s overarching themes of jealousy and revenge, forgiveness and redemption. Winterson has explored her own adoption in fiction (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) as well as memoir (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?). She has called The Winter’s Tale an important, almost talismanic text. The Gap of Time is true to one of Shakespeare’s most profound plays in part because Winterson brings to it her own personal story of loss and discovery.
This article was originally published in the October 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.